Friday, February 12, 2010

The Earth is a Grave

The earth is a grave.
The single most obvious fact about history is the startling and sudden ascent of man on the planet. We know from geological evidence that the earth itself also is "alive" in the sense that it was born, will live for a certain time, and then will be "dead" (i.e., all the energy it holds, and the elaborations of that energy will dissipate and be exhausted). The sun, too, has a certain life, and will eventually "die." The inception and progress of life "as we know it" (animate existence) is only a minute blip or blink on the geologic time-line. Whatever convulsions occur over the next millennia will have no ultimate effect on the larger "clocks" which tick at geologic or astronomical rates. All "life" including humankind, is a temporary phenomenon, and we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking there are larger purposes to our existence, which somehow do or do not support our actions and choices. We are our own purpose. 
In an act of irremediable selfishness, we have completely overtaken and exceeded the natural boundaries which "nature" sets to the increase of species. By "natural boundaries" I mean food, shelter, space and other competing species. Humans, like all other life forms, exist by virtue of their ability to reproduce themselves. This reproductive necessity is programmed into our minds and instincts, just as it is in all species. It is a simple chemical fact. Species are programmed to reproduce themselves at rates which exceed the natural boundaries, in order to overcome the depredations which tend to limit, or reduce their numbers. In "a state of nature" there is no perfected "balance" between the tendency of any species to increase, and the forces which limit it, though there may be periods of temporary stasis which allow for settled relationships to coexist for longer segments of time. We know, for instance, that mass extinctions of species have occurred in the past, as the result of astronomical events like giant meteors. And we suspect that viruses will probably eventually outsmart us. 
But in the short term, we have created a crisis by rapidly reproducing our numbers, through the manipulation and utilization of available resource(s). The earth is a finite entity; all forms of energy are being expended at the same rate, though it may seem there are variations in the progress of this process. In other words, in the long run, we may create pockets or loops of potential delay and hedges against scarcity, but eventually we are doomed. In the vast entropical progress, the tiniest variations in this progress may seem important, but they're of no consequence whatsoever in the great scheme of things. 
Nevertheless, if we wish to strike a temporary bargain with "nature"--for our own convenience--or to influence the progress of other species with which we share the planet--there are certain choices we do have. We can leave to our own instinctual reproductive urge the decision about how fast, and on what terms, we increase, and the limits we know we will encounter. That's the way things occur "in nature." When a species exceeds its limit, it begins to die off, is killed, or stops reproducing. We see this constantly in nature. Humankind, in fact, has created a whole new set of "artificial" limits on other species, by winning out over them in the competition for available food, shelter and space--we have, in effect, created new sets of boundaries, hastening the scarcity, and extinction of whole species.
Ironically, humankind has the power of self-consciousness. We know what we're doing. We know about limits, and we know about consequences. We know that if we reproduce too rapidly within a certain environmental region, eventually boundaries will prevent further expansion, and crises will occur. Indeed, the earth itself, as a context of subsistence, is itself a single boundary. Attempts at ameliorating scarcities and regional crises are like putting out fires: If we keep feeding the general conflagration with fuel, no amount of firefighting will ever succeed. Each effort to "save" populations from the consequences of rapid, uncontrolled increase will only result in more devastation, unless we address the primary causation.
We can decide voluntarily to slow down population increase. The main short-term challenge to humanity is to control its numbers. We know that by pursuing the present path, suffering and waste will occur on a grand scale. It already does. Millions of individuals die constantly on earth, as a result of hunger, pestilence and conflict. By pretending that uncontrolled population expansion has no consequences, we continue to perpetuate trends that will result in ever-more frequent and devastating effects. In a sense, this futility may seem important, but in the long run, it's a very small thing. From an Olympian vantage, the growing consciousness of our limits may seem harmless enough--despite the individual consciousness of pain, we can use our intelligence to set up effective delusions which allow us to maintain limited senses of security and perseverance, even when we know them to be false at bottom.
In the last analysis, the only ones we can truly "save" from the consequences of uncontrolled increase, are those whom we can prevent from being born. Life is not sacred. In nature, species increase, then die back. Death is an integral part of the process of the descent of species. There is no "plan." If the present population of the earth were to be reduced by a half, or increased ten-fold, the equation would be the same, just different in terms of individuals. Each person who lives and dies in abject scarcity and hardship is simply part of the larger bargain with limits. The humanitarian palliatives we practice are simply footnotes to this larger equation. 
We can imagine the endgame of total, flagrant obliviousness. A trashed planet. Mass suffering. But we are proving over and over again that the reproductive tendency is stronger than any mediation. We can dicker over short-term solutions and fixes. It's a pathetic performance, touching, but essentially doomed. In the end, you can't win. It's how you play the game that matters. 



Conrad DiDiodato said...


if you're feeling a little closed in, come to Canada. Lots of space up here!It just might freshen up the mood a bit, too.

Kirby Olson said...

The earth is an aperture to the Nude Jerusalem.

J said...

The earth is a finite entity; all forms of energy are being expended at the same rate, though it may seem there are variations in the progress of this process. In other words, in the long run, we may create pockets or loops of potential delay and hedges against scarcity, but eventually we are doomed.

Yes, Sir Faville, though humans' faith in progress, or dare we say teleology of some sort --secular, or religious--may be difficult to eradicate. Evolution itself does not seem completely opposed to a sort of grand Hegelian development towards...something, though as you point out humans tend to overlook the unending depletion of resources, and ever-growing population, urbanization, water issues, spread of disease, viruses, etc. There will be probably not be any major crisis (excepting another war, or terrorism) until we're down to the last few hundred barrels of oil--then the real Dystopia begins.

Charles Shere said...

I completely agree with you.

George Mattingly said...

Curtis, you couldn't be more accurate. The most astonishing thing about the climate change "debate" (a muddy, degraded, lowest common denominator conversation already) is that no one even mentions population growth as an issue. Not politically correct, I guess, and that will be the death of us.